Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Prince and the Pauper - 2011 Version

I heard Steve Forbes, erstwhile presidential candidate, talking on Morning Joe yesterday, giving us the benefit of his superior intellect regarding the economy. We need two things to happen to get this country moving forward toward renewed prosperity, declared Steve.

1) lower taxes;

2) control labor.

And I'm thinking, well, gee, have you forgotten we already tried that? Isn't this exactly what we did when George W Bush was president? The economy was humming along under Bill Clinton, racking up a surplus. Unemployment was about as low as realistically possible. Seems to me, everyone was pretty happy then. The rich were getting richer, but so were the poor.

Then, along comes George and the all-Republican congress and we did exactly what the Forbeses of the world recommended. Huge tax decreases, particularly on the un-working segment of our population. The collectors of dividends and interest and capital gains and inheritors of fortunes (much like Steve himself).

And, in the meantime, the number of American workers who belonged to unions was dropping precipitously. I think we're down to about 7 per cent now. Companies blackmailed their employees into taking decreases in pay, big ones. They took away benefits. They dropped pension plans and reneged on contracts guaranteeing lifetime health insurance.

You'd have thought, to hear Steve Forbes tell it, the economy should have boomed like never before. The stock market should have soared. New factories should have been built, new jobs created by the millions.

But that's not what happened, is it? I guess we just didn't go far enough. Taxes didn't go down sufficiently to inspire the rich and the corporations to invest in the economy (although the extra profits did propel them to ever more excessive perks, parties and perquisites).

And as for labor, the workers in the factory here in my town, who lost $4 an hour in pay, as well as a significant chunk of their benefits, should obviously be more stand up than their more affluent brethren by being willing to unselfishly make even more sacrifices for the good of the U.S.A.

Why is it that it's always us that has to do the giving? Why do the whining rich always have  to be handed ever more incentive to do the right thing and the working class ever less? I wonder if Mr Forbes acknowledges that there is an end point somewhere in all of this. Does his ideal America consist of the Squires owning the vast estates while the serfs tug their forelock, hoping to be provided a hovel to live in and a crust of bread to eat?

God, how I'd love to see a real-life Prince and the Pauper, circa 2011. It would do my heart good to see Steve Forbes, stripped of his inheritance, working in a foundry for $10, trying to finagle how to pay his bills and take care of his family.

Do that for a few years, Mr Forbes, then come back and report on how you feel. Until, then, don't try to convince me you know what the hell you're talking about.